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Paul Stalnaker -- A Prime
Factor In The Calhoun Equation
by Maricia Mlynek


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Paul Stalnaker at CCHS in 1961.

In our county, we have immeasurable riches in our hilltops, valleys, and riversides. Many may be thinking of our oil and gas, but that is not what I am describing.

It is our people.

Neighbors, family, and even strangers can find warmth in our homes and hearts. We have individuals who know sacrifice, love, patience, and peace.

We have seen our share of hard times; we have walked the darkened valleys, but those fires that have burned us deeply have refined us into an equation of incalculable wealth.

This equation was proven to be true when I spent an afternoon with one of Calhoun’s celebrated educators, math teacher Paul Stalnaker.

You know that feeling you get when you see a teacher you had when you were young?

It’s like seeing your third grade teacher, and multiplication tables start running through your mind.

I was never a pupil of Mr. Stalnaker, but he still has that presence. Immediately, I felt as if he should ask all the questions, and I was there to learn, listen, and answer.

I can now proudly say that I too have sat before this master educator and story teller. A true educator must be a phenomenal story teller. After all, even Jesus used parables.

I know some of my readers are getting nervous at the thoughts of Stalnaker’s stories. Was your name mentioned? Were you one of the paddled?

I will try to leave out names to protect the guilty, but you know who you are.

Stalnaker was an educator for over 38 years. He laughed as he talked about some of his students: “Oh, they always tried to get the best of me. I was a boy too. My days in the classroom started when I was 17. I had to be one step ahead and outwit them.”

He recalled the April Fool’s pranks that took at least 10 years off his life--and the battle to paddle the teacher on his birthday.

“I have had thousands of students, and they were the greatest in the world,” he said.

Isn’t that statement amazing?

An educator for almost four decades and his praise is not of his own accolades. He didn’t mention his own achievements, diplomas or scholarly successes.

When Stalnaker summed up his years at the chalkboard of Calhoun schools, he said simply that it was his students that were the prize.

Stalnaker has a true passion for his subject, “Math is the perfect subject.”

He has a love for his pupils and a dedication to his community.

“There is no place like Calhoun County,” he claimed.

Stalnaker is a native of the county. He was born in 1930 on Wolf Run, Orma, and raised there along with his six siblings.

He was the fourth child of Fenton R. and Opal Downs Stalnaker, who were also teachers at one time.

“I am thankful to have been the middle child. I got to know all of my brothers and sisters, all of my grandparents, and even one set of my great-grandparents,” he said.

His early education was at Orma and Arnoldsburg schools. When he was 12, he took a promotion test with his older brother Marvin. He was promoted to the ninth grade. Thus, at the age of a sixth grader, he began high school at CHS.

Not only did he begin high school, he also began teaching. Lloyd Vaughn was his VoAg teacher.

“He would take some students on field trips. I remember him coming to me and asking me to run his class while he was gone on those trips. So, I taught his class of older boys for the next three years, whenever he would be on a trip. Can you believe that? I just did it. I never had any problems either,” said Stalnaker.

After graduating in 1946 at age 16, Stalnaker went to work for his dad, driving horses and skidding out wood to furnish logs for the sawmills.

“I knew after months of this work, that it was surely not for me. With $250, I hitchhiked into Glenville and started the second semester at Glenville State.” He continued his education for the next 10 years and beyond. After beginning his teaching career, he attended courses at night and in the summers.

In the fall of 1947, at 17, Stalnaker began in his first school.

“I was sent to the head of the West Fork, up on Metheney Ridge. Everyone said that I would never make it. That I would be run out for sure, but I never had any trouble,” he said.

Metheney School was the first of six one-room schools that Stalnaker would teach. He also taught in Minnora and at a school in Akron, Ohio, but he ended up at Calhoun High School.

“I made twice as much money in Ohio and was acquainted with good people, but Calhoun was where I was born and raised. I am partial to our county,” said Stalnaker.

“I knew everyone and every place here. I knew my students, their parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts. I knew where they lived and the good and the bad about them. I knew what was in them and tried my best to get it out of them.”

Another impact Stalnaker had on county schools had to do with deer season. At age 15, he became a hunter by bagging an eight-pointer on a trip into Webster County. From that point on, hunting was necessary even if it meant missing school.

“I took it upon myself to talk to all five board members about the school calendar. If we could be on break during the week of Thanksgiving, no one would miss school to go hunting. Lots of people thought that was silly. Kanawha County folks called us hillbilly and back woodsy, but the truth is over half of the students, faculty, even bus drivers, were taking off to go hunting. It just made sense.”

The board decided in favor of Stalnaker’s suggestion and even today the schools are off during the first week of deer hunting.

Stalnaker told stories about his students and the antics of his classroom in the basement next to fellow teacher Don McCartney.

He ended our time together by saying, “I’ve been a lot of places, seen a lot of things, but I don’t believe there is anyone who has had a better life than I. My teaching experiences and associations with all are something I’m proud of and honored by. I’m glad one hundred times over that I have remained here in Calhoun.”

Stalnaker has been married to his wife, Lenell, for 57 years. They have two children and three granddaughters. He has been retired from teaching for 24 years. In his retirement, he explained his time with his grandchildren as fun and exciting: “They made life interesting again. Time with them was like going to the circus. We babied the life out of those girls.” 

It seems that whether he was in the classroom, delivering wood to neighbors, or working the polls at election time (which he did for close to 55 years), Stalnaker is a prime factor in our Calhoun equation. He is a beloved and celebrated educator and one of the many people who makes Calhoun a priceless place to live.

Former Calhoun County High School teacher Paul Stalnaker talks about percentages with reporter (and now a devoted student) Maricia Mlynek.

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